A six-year-old dispute between Handi-Transit and a woman who was refused bus service has resulted in a $2,000 settlement but no policy changes.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission recently arbitrated a dispute between Ruth Dopson and Winnipeg Handi-Transit.
Dopson, who has both intellectual and physical disabilities, was refused Priority One service in 2007 by Handi-Transit. She was told she could still use the service, but she'd be on Priority Two service, which doesn't guarantee rides for certain times or at all.
The 71-year-old had been using the service to get to and from her job.
But in February 2007, Dopson got a call from someone with Handi-Transit.
“Handi-Transit called to inform Ruth’s manager that people with intellectual disabilities would no longer be guaranteed rides to and from their workplace because they don’t make minimum wage – that was the criteria they used to determine who should be guaranteed rides to and from work,” said Emily Ternette, a local activist for persons with disabilities.
Ternette is a friend of Dopson’s and has been helping her fight Handi-Transit on the decision.
"What's minimum wage got to do with anything? For Ruth and all the people that do the work Ruth does, it's work and it's important," said Ternette.
Because Dopson was no longer eligible for Priority One service, she had to take cabs instead.
But that proved problematic for Dopson, as some drivers didn’t like that they were being paid at the chicken restaurant because Dopson didn’t carry the cash to pay them.
Ternette said cab drivers would stop showing up because they didn’t like the idea of being paid at the destination.
Eventually, Dopson tried a different bus service, but it started taking her an hour and a half to get to work due to the multiple stops, compared to 10 minutes with the Priority One Handi-Transit service.
Ternette believed the situation amounted to discrimination based on Dopson’s disabilities, and began writing letters to city councillors and MPs. When that didn’t work, the pair file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in 2010.
But city officials have always maintained Dopson was not dropped from the service because of her wage, and instead, she was eligible for alternate transportation.
This week, the commission arbitrated a settlement between the two parties. The commission found the rules were discriminatory, and Dopson was given $2,000 but no policy changes were instituted at Handi-Transit.
Emily Ternette, a local activist, thinks the settlement amounts to hush money.
“It was a way of shutting us up and saying, ‘OK, it’s done. You can’t go anymore forward anymore. You’ve got no other recourse. Here’s the money. There you go,’” said Ternette. “Now, we have to find another way to get this policy changed.”
Dopson isn’t satisfied with the outcome. She believes Handi-Transit’s policy should be changed.
“They took advantage of me and said that I wasn't qualified to go on Handi-Transit, and I don't think it was fair,” she said.
Ternette said by going public, she hopes other individuals with intellectual disabilities who have had problems with the Handi-Transit policy will now come forward.
"They can complain as a group, and if they do that, maybe that will shake up Handi-Transit, and they'll say, 'OK, maybe we have to look at this now,'" said Ternette.